MOSCOW, January 28 (Itar-Tass) – A clear answer regarding the future of nuclear power after Fukushima came from Bulgarians, a continent away from Japan.
About 60 percent of people who participated in a nationwide referendum in Bulgaria were positive about the future of nuclear power in their country and supported plans to build a nuclear power plant.
Although it has already been announced that the results of the plebiscite would be annulled because of an insufficient turnout of slightly over 20 percent, there is more to its outcome than just a “comma” from Bulgarians to their government which has been stubbornly, albeit unsuccessfully, resisting the Belene NPP project offered by Russia.
In late October 2012, the Bulgarian parliament voted for the referendum. Of 113 MPs who voted on the matter, 106 supported the referendum and 7 objected. Debates continued for more than three hours.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party that initiated the referendum proposed a different question for the plebiscite: will the development of the nuclear power industry in Bulgaria by building a nuclear power plant at the Belene site be acceptable? However members of the ruling party “Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria” approved a new version of the question last week, removing the mention of Belene.
Prime Minister Boyko Borisov suggested holding a referendum in the summer of 2013 simultaneously with parliamentary elections. “It [the nuclear power plant] started to be built 30 years ago and therefore can wait for several months until the referendum takes place. If we hold it now, we will spend 15-20 million euros on it. If we organise it simultaneously with the parliamentary elections, it will cost us nothing,” the prime minister said.
“If the referendum gives the result [sought by the opposition], the state will bind itself by bank loan commitments on the next day and we will start building,” Borisov said.
Russia and Bulgaria signed a memorandum on late November 2010 that lays out the principles of establishing a project company to build the Belene nuclear power plant.
Bulgaria started experiencing problems with the project after the outbreak of the global financial crisis. The situation deteriorated after the investor – Germany’s RWE concern that was bidding for 49 percent of the NPP shares -- had withdrawn from the project.
The Belene site was approved for the construction of a second Bulgarian NPP by a Council of Ministers decree on March 20, 1981. The site was handed to the Ministry of Economics on December 31, 1981.
The foundations of the future power plant were laid in 1987 according to the design of Atomenergoproekt Kiev from the USSR and Energoproekt Sofia. The design suggested the construction of four VVER-1000/V 320 reactors. Between 1988 and 1990 40 percent of the construction work of reactor 1 was finished and 80 percent of the equipment was supplied. The project was abandoned in 1990 due to the democratic changes in Bulgaria. In 2002, the government decided to restart the Belene project. The tender for the construction of the nuclear power plant was announced in 2005 and was won by Russian Atomstroyexport. The National Electric Company launched a procedure for selection of a contractor for the engineering, procurement, and commissioning of Belene Nuclear Power Plant, Units 1 and 2.
Bulgaria withdrew from the project in March 2012.
Russia’s Rosatom Head Sergei Kiriyenko said late last year that “2012 is the first year when the Fukushima shock was gone” and “we can speak of more balanced assessments of the future of nuclear power”.
“Less balanced assessments” made by experts after the Fukushima incident on March 11, 2011 suggested that the number of new power units to be commissioned by 2030-2035 would decreased by 50 percent.
However, now experts appear to be more optimistic. The International Atomic Energy Agency projects 300-340 GW of new capacities to be put into operation by 2035, which is only 10-12 percent less than was expected before Fukushima. In reality this means that about 400 new power units will be built around the wolrd in the years to come, Kiriyenko said.